From Birth to Two: the Neuroscience of Infant Development

Photo courtesy of AAAS

Photo courtesy of AAAS

“There are many misconceptions about child development,” said Pat Levitt, Provost Professor at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California at the latest Neuroscience and Society lecture convened by the Dana Foundation and American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Some of the most prevalent myths include that humans are born with a blank slate; children are sponges; 80% of development takes place by 3 years old; and that a child’s outcome is predominantly self-determined. Moreover, many consider the mixture of fate, free will, parenting, genes, and environment a mysterious “black box” that ultimately decides a child’s success.

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NIH Neuro Start-Up Challenge Winners Announced

Guest post by Kayt Sukel

Late last year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) partnered with the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI), a non-profit group specializing in technology transfer, and the Heritage Provider Network, a California-based healthcare provider, to bring some of the NIH’s most promising brain-based technologies to market via a contest:  the Neuro Start-Up Challenge. More than 70 entrepreneurial teams participated in this crowd-sourced competition, working through multiple phases—including an Internet vote open to the public—to convince the event’s organizers and judges that they should be the trusted start-up venture to help the commercialization of one of sixteen innovative inventions.

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Improvisations on ‘Improvisation in the Sciences’

Guest post by Ted Altschuler

comebebrainy2015I suggested to my friends at Dana that I would blog on Improvisation in the Sciences, the opening event of Brain Awareness Week New York City, as an improvisation. Being both an artist and a scientist, I thought this could be an engaging way to participate in an evening combining music, science and visual art, but its freewheeling form has run longer than expected!  Here are excerpts. You can read the complete version on the ComeBeBraiNY website, as well as check out its Brain Awareness Week calendar of more than 30 New York events and Dana’s calendar of global events.

Improvisation 3

Antoine Roney, the saxophonist, and his 10-year old son Kojo, a drummer, have started to play. The music is relentless. The father, despite the agitated line he is playing, looks as if he is praying. His son pounds his kit with a terrifying drive. The variegated rhythms follow each other with continued unpredictability, yet their progress seems inevitable, the ingredients of great improv. Usually talks open with someone fumbling as they try to sync their laptop with a projector. Now this is an opening to a neuroscience talk! Continue reading

NIH and Center for Advancing Innovation Launch Neuro Start-Up Challenge

Guest post by Kayt Sukel

The mission of the National Institutes of Health is to “seek fundamental knowledge and behavior of living systems and the application of that knowledge to enhance health, lengthen life, and reduce illness and disability.” But the vast majority of research projects funded by NIH, despite their viability as potential treatments, won’t make it to clinical trials or commercial development because it lacks the money.

“You have to understand that the research that comes out of the NIH are very early stage projects—we’re a basic research discovery kind of organization,” says Thomas Stackhouse, associate director of the National Cancer Institute’s Technology Transfer Center. “So it’s very hard to get pharmaceutical companies or other organizations to partner around those discoveries no matter how promising they may be. The risk is just too high. But if we could create a start-up that can take one of these opportunities and run with it through some of the initial studies, it may be a good model to bring many more of these innovative technologies to market.”

To do so, NIH has partnered with two groups, the Center for Advancing Innovation (CAI), a non-profit group that spurs technology transfer, and the Heritage Provider Network, a California-based healthcare provider network, to sponsor the Neuro Start-Up Challenge. The challenge uses a crowd-sourced competition to find the best start-up companies to exploit some of the institutes’ most promising brain-related discoveries. Continue reading

Scientific Community Comes Out Against ‘Brain Game’ Marketing

Guest post by science writer Kayt Sukel

A few years ago, I was asked to write an article about the science behind “brain games,” or computer games designed to help improve cognitive function, for a popular magazine. I spoke with a variety of scientists—including those involved with companies that were marketing these games—and also examined the (quite small number) of studies that had been published on brain game efficacy. Taken together, my piece concluded that was that there was no hard and fast evidence, to date, that brain games worked as advertised. Citing the lack of a magic bullet for aging-related cognitive decline, the editor of the magazine killed my story, saying that it felt “too negative.”  The magazine’s readership, she told me, wanted to be able to “do something” about keeping age-related memory and attention problems at bay.

Who wouldn’t? Many brain training companies make bold claims about the games’ effects–suggesting that just a few minutes on the computer each day could slow cognitive decline and keep neurodegeneration at bay. With that kind of messaging, it’s easy to see why the programs have become so popular. Yet, while these supposedly “scientific” claims lack evidentiary basis, few scientists have come out publicly against them.

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